Visiting Edinburgh Scotland was a great cultural experience for us. Scotland’s city’s capital is strikingly beautiful and is like a scene out of a movie. You’ll fall in love with the culture, its beautiful sculptures, and cobbled stone streets along this 3-day Edinburgh itinerary.
Edinburgh, Scotland should be a part of your list of places to travel while in England. London is not the only place to visit while in England. Edinburgh is one of the top destinations to visit in Europe. The culture is so alluring and hearing street performers play the bagpipes is nostalgic. Not to mention that the people are very friendly here and the landscapes are strikingly beautiful.
In this article, I will walk you through a 3 day Edinburgh itinerary on things to see and do here if you are visiting for the first time. This is also for those that may have visited in the past but didn’t get a chance to see all of the city.
So without further ado, let’s dig in and have some fun and spend the best 3 days in Edinburgh.
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3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary
Edinburgh is comprised of New and Old towns. New Town is more open and more modernized. When it comes to Old Town, it’s a small and cozy part of town. Then there is Edinburgh Castle, Castle Rock, which is at the center of it all.
On this Edinburgh itinerary, we will be walking mostly everywhere. Edinburgh is a walkable city, and most of the iconic sites are close together. I recommend you pack some comfortable shoes to bring with you.
I didn’t see too many black people in the city (a sprinkle here and there) and yet the locals treated us very well. My daughter and I really enjoyed ourselves. And if we get the chance, we will visit again and maybe even a different city in Scotland.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
There are many options of hotels to stay in for your 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary. Rather you prefer to stay in New Town for the more Luxury hotels or Old Town (recommended) with more of the charming Budget hotels. Use Booking.com to see all options for hotels. When you use Booking.com, you can use the awesome search tool options from distance to city center and read thousands of reviews to help you decide what’s the best hotel for you.
Airbnb in Edinburgh
I preferred to stay in Old Town as this was the area where most of the sites we wanted to see. So my suggestion for this 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary would be to stay in Old Town.
We stayed 3 nights in this Airbnb. It was a beautiful, very clean flat (apartment) with an incredible super host. It was a short walk, about 3 minutes to the infamous Grassmarket and a 9-minute walk to the castle.
Hostels in Edinburgh
If you prefer to stay in a more budget-friendly location, a Hostel would be a great choice. And it won’t break the bank.
Day 1 (Old Town) – 3 Days in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle, aka Castle Rock
The first activity on this Edinburgh itinerary is touring Castle Rock. Visit the castle first thing in the morning when it opens. This will help you avoid a big crowd and enable you to see more of the castle without a lot of people being in your way.
You will get some incredible views of the city at this castle that’s sitting up high at the top of the hill.
When you come into the city, there is no way you would not know where the castle is. The castle is in the center of the city, high on a huge rock. That is one of the first things you will see when entering the city.
The castle grounds are so beautiful and have incredible details. I especially loved the architecture of the buildings that’s made of stone. The castle looks like a dream from its beautiful archways to its drawbridges. Along your tour, you will also see The Great Hall and Scottish Crown Jewels. And the views that you will get from the castle are breathtaking.
If you are an art and history buff then take a peek inside the National Museum. It’s located on the Castle grounds and it’s free to enter.
To visit the castle during your 3 days in Edinburgh, make sure you purchase tickets in advance. The Edinburgh Castle tickets are purchased by date and time slots, so to enter the castle you must purchase in advance.
Click here to see ticket options.
St. Giles Cathedral
Next up on this Edinburgh itinerary is walking down High Street towards the St. Giles Cathedral. It roughly takes 4 minutes to get there if you don’t stop along the way. This beautiful ancient gothic cathedral is amazing. King David I, founded this medieval church in 1124.
Take in the views of this beautiful Cathedral, then head on inside to look around. It’s free to enter the cathedral, so no need to worry about purchasing tickets. While there light a candle, say a prayer, and just enjoy all of the beautiful details of this church. The cathedral is open to visitors every day from 10 AM- 4 PM, with varying hours on Wednesday and Sunday.
Eat lunch at Castle Arms
I know by now those tummies are rumbling. So stop and have lunch at Castle Arms. This pub has great food, beer, cask ales, and cider.
Try one of the local favorites, like traditional Yorkshire pudding. This consists of meat like sausage or roast, peas, and mashed potatoes all piled on top of a type of bread puff/bowl. Lather with brown gravy and enjoy. It is one of the English staple dishes and it was quite delicious.
If you are brave, try your hand at eating the national Scottish signature dish, Haggis. This is a combination of sheep’s pluck (sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs), onions, oatmeal, and spices, then wrapped in an animal’s stomach or an artificial casing.
You can try the Haggis as a starter such as Haggis Fritters. Or as a main dish complete with Neeps (Turnips), and Tatties (mashed potatoes). I was not brave enough to try the Haggis, but if you are please let me know your thoughts. Anyway, if that doesn’t get your taste buds salivating, then they also have fish and chips, burgers, steaks, and chicken sandwiches.
Then, wash it down with a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruit or try one of the 50 types of Scottish Whiskey available. I had the Cider and It was so yummy. It was semi-sweet and wasn’t too heavy at all. When in Scotland you must try one of their signature ciders and whiskey. I did not have the whiskey, and I am now regretting it.
Have fun at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
I decided to take a break from the historic touring on this Edinburgh itinerary and have a little fun with my teenage daughter. There are over 100 exhibits at Camera Obscura, and the optical illusions were fun. We got to play around with each other and take really cool pictures. It’s not just all fun, you will experience some illusions that will hurt your brain trying to figure out. It’s challenging yet intriguing.
Then stroll through the Mirror Maze and see how long it’ll take you to find the exit. Try to find your friends or loved ones in this maze by playing hide and seek. You may think you see them in the flesh, but it may be just their reflection in the mirror.
The Vortex tunnel was another highlight for us because it makes you feel like you are spinning upside down! Then climb all the way to the rooftop to get spectacular views of the city. You will get views of the Edinburgh Castle, Scott Monument, Princes Street, The Hub, the Royal Mile, and many other monuments and attractions.
If you have kids, teens, or young adults, you should incorporate this stop on your Edinburgh itinerary. As a grown woman, I even enjoyed visiting this fun place.
You must have a ticket to enter. You will have to pick a day and time slot for when you want to visit. To see ticket options click here.
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Take A Stroll Down Victoria Street
When spending 3 days in Edinburgh, you will want to stroll down Victoria’s Street. There are cute shops, pubs, and restaurants lined on this gorgeous cobble-stoned street. But aesthetics is not the only thing that makes this street special. Why? This street has become most known as “Diagon Alley” in the Harry Potter books. The street is a little hilly and steep so ensure you are ready for the slight climb.
To add, if you are an avid fan and want to know more about all the places that were inspirations for the Harry Potter books, then I would suggest taking a Harry Potter walking tour on your Edinburgh itinerary. On this walking tour, the guide will take you to all of the places where the JK Rowlings got her inspiration for the books. They will show you the Grave of Tom Riddle at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Get a chance to pop in shops and restaurants where some of the writings took place. Test your knowledge on how much you really know about Harry Potter through interactive quizzes and trivia questions.
For more info and tickets for the Harry Potter walking tour, visit this website.
Go to Grassmarket and eat dinner
After exploring Victoria Street, now is time to walk to the Grassmarket. This market square also has restaurants, pubs, cafes, and shopping boutiques. Grassmarket Square is one of the oldest parts of the city. It used to be the main marketplace area for horses and cattle in the 14th century, thus the name. There was also a dark side to its origin as it was a place where public executions happened. But you do not have to worry about witnessing any of that now.
Now, this popular and beautiful square is vibrant, lively, and full of gorgeous architecture. If you want to enjoy some nightlife during these 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary, then this is the place to be. So eat dinner at a unique and historic pub, then have a cocktail and relax. Listen to some live music while you dine.
Later walk around the square and enjoy the atmosphere and watch some street performers. Take in all of the historic buildings, as it is so much history here. There’s outdoor seating allowing you to be in the action and people-watch.
There are several businesses around the area as well. My daughter was so excited when we came across Maison De Moggy, Scotland’s first Cat Cafe’. I’ve never seen one before, and this one had some kittens in the window display just relaxing in their beds. We didn’t get a chance to go in, but I’m sure she would’ve loved being able to cuddle with those cuties.
Looking for more nightlife along this Edinburgh Itinerary?
Late-night Bites & Drinks
If you want some late-night bites or drinks, then head down to The Three Sisters in Cowgate. It’s a short 5-minute walk from the Grassmarket. They have great cocktails, it’s a lively bar, and the food was good. I would recommend eating the fresh stone-baked pizza. The crust was so yummy and crispy.
3 Days in Edinburgh – Day 2 (New Town…with a lil’ Old)
Wander through Princes Street Gardens
On your second day of this Edinburgh itinerary, get up early and take a stroll through the beautiful Princes Street Gardens. It’s nice to walk through the park first thing in the morning since it’s not that many people out. And it’s a quiet, tranquil, and relaxing start to the day. Just walk around and explore and take great photos as you walk along. The gardens are in a perfect location centered between Old Town and New Town. In fact, the garden was first introduced in 1760 after the draining of the polluted Nor Loche.
Make sure you go see the Ross Fountain, it’s beautiful. You’ll get spectacular views of the Castle as the backdrop. There are benches sprinkled throughout the park if you want to take a little break or just admire the flowers. This walkthrough of the gardens was pretty easy and the sidewalks were leveled and flat. We walked through the park in about 30 minutes. Starting from the Princes Street Gardens Playground and ending at the historic Floral Clock.
If you would like to learn more about the history during your 3 days in Edinburgh, you should take a private walking tour. Click here for more info.
Walk Down Princess Street and Shop
You can’t spend 3 days in Edinburgh, without shopping!!
Take a walk down the oh-so-popular Princes Street, AKA Edinburgh’s shopping Boulevard. Along the route, you can stop and admire the many statues around. If you haven’t been shopping in England before I would recommend a few of my favorites, Mark & Spencer, Primark, H&M, New Look, and Boots. Those are more like the popular chain stores in the UK. However, there are also several other clothing stores and souvenir shops to visit along this street.
As you continue along, stop and have a coffee and pastry at Costa Coffee. It’s located on the 2d floor so while you sip on your cup of Joe you can get great views of the city and watch the busy street of cars and pedestrians below.
Next, head towards the Scott Monument. Before you get there you will pass by the Royal Scottish Academy. This academy is home to students of the arts. The outside of the academy is stunning, I had to walk beside the building and take in the beauty of it. Additionally, the Academy was established by the Scottish National Gallery.
The Scottish National Gallery is a museum of the arts. If you get a chance during your 3 days in Edinburgh, this will be a worthy stop for you as well. It’s free to enter. But for this itinerary, we had no time to explore the gallery.
Visit the Scott Monument
After you are done shopping til’ you drop on Princes Street, head on over to the Scott Monument. It is also located on Princess Street so you won’t have to go too far. The Scott Monument is a must-see stop for this 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary and should not be missed.
This monument is a contribution to an author named Sir Walter Scott and was constructed in 1842, years following his death. It is the largest monument that’s been built for any literary writer. At the base of the monument, you will see a sculpted statue of him, that’s made of marble and weighs several tons.
The monument sits high and towers over the city. To say, it is such a cool medieval-style statue to see, a great memorial for Walter Scott and remembrance of him. This is what makes it such an iconic landmark in Scotland.
Usually, the monument would be open to visitors to tour one of its floors inside to get great views and learn its history. But, right now it is temporarily closed, I’m assuming it’s because of COVID-19. Even though it’s not open to climb up the stairs, the view from below is still worth the trip. Just staring at the monument alone is breathtaking.
Have lunch on Rose Street
Wander along Rose Street to shop, dine, or drink in one of the many beer gardens. Now, when we were in Edinburgh, several of the eateries were packed. I think there was an important football game or tournament that was going on so most of the pubs in the area were fully booked. That was a bummer for us because most of the recommended places to eat weren’t available. So with that being said, please make sure to make a reservation in advance for your 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary.
Anywho, Rose Street includes the Main Street, Rose Street North, and Rose Street South. On Rose street, it seems like the city opens up and you get to see more of the not-so-touristy spots. It’s filled with pubs, restaurants, shops, etc. While walking through the streets, you will get more views of the Castle. This is the perfect time to roam around the streets and see all the unique shops and bars. Oh yeah, don’t forget to eat lunch.
Walk around Dean’s Village
When I was planning my 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary, I came across this gem.
The village takes about 20 minutes to get there from the city center. It’s an adorable and quaint neighborhood. While on your walk towards the village you will pass by Royal Circus in Stockbridge. Which is a beautiful curved street of waffle-colored royal-style homes, not to be missed. It’s similar to the Circus in the gorgeous English town of Bath.
Then as you continue to walk along you will have to cross Dean’s Bridge. But don’t ignore the picturesque structure. Take in the views of the water while crossing over it.
Next, you’ll walk down a slight hill to make it to Dean’s Village. This adorable neighborhood has a shimmering riving running through it. The cobbled stone streets complete the look of this charming neighborhood. Take a walk, look around, and enjoy the beauty of it all. The village is definitely off the beaten path of the typical touristy spots and should be included in your Edinburgh itinerary.
Visit Calton Hill
Calton Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and another must-see site along this 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary. Edinburgh and Calton’s Hill’s history dates back millions of years ago. The unique rocks and hills here formed due to the volcano eruptions and the Ice Age.
Calton Hill became one of the first public parks in 1724. The Hill consists of several monuments and observatories, such as the Nelson Monument, National Monument, and City Observatories.
Each of the buildings will give you a unique viewpoint of both Old and New Towns such as Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. I think this was the best view we’ve seen of Arthur’s seat from here. There are huge grassy lawns where you can just lay out in the grass and gaze upon Arthur’s seat, or even enjoy a nice picnic. Luckily for us, it was a gorgeous clear, and sunny day.
The National Monument may look familiar to you as it was inspired by the Parthenon Monument of Athens, Greece. Climb up this monument and get even more panoramic views of the city.
Then there is the Nelson Monument which is a tall, telescope-looking building. You can climb up the 143 steps and get amazing views there too. This building was built as a contribution to a fallen Navy Hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Additionally, take a brisk stroll along Regent’s walk and admire views of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and other attractions.
We stayed in Old Town, so we headed back to Grassmarket to eat dinner at one of the pubs. However, if you are staying in New Town, there are several restaurants and pubs to choose from, particularly on Princes Street and Rose Street.
If you’re looking for something other than the traditional British dishes on this 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary. You’ll have your choice of traditional food chains such as Five Guys, TGI Fridays. Also, Wagamama’s is a good Japanese chain restaurant to eat at. I heard that Thai food is good in Edinburgh too. We ended up eating at Coldtown House pub. The good was just okay, it wasn’t the best food, so I would hardly recommend it. But my cocktail was yummy, and the aesthetics of the Pub are nice and cozy.
Visit Palace of Holyrood House
During your 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary, it’s a right of passage to visit a castle or a palace.
The Palace of Holyrood is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. It’s located at the bottom of the hill at the end of the Royal Mile. We were told by the locals that we had just missed the royal family’s visit and that it was chaotic since some of the streets were blocked off, and the Palace was inaccessible.
The palace view upon entrance is beautiful. I loved seeing the elegant white pillars while walking down the palace’s corridors. Another part that was very intriguing to me was seeing Mary Queen of Scott’s bed chambers. Although very elegant and regal, it was actually smaller than I would’ve thought.
Stunning Abbey Ruins
But my absolute favorite part was at the end of the tour when we went outside to the Holyrood Abbey ruins. This area just looks like a scene out of a movie. The details were stunning. The ambiance is just incredible. The ancient Gothic style of this building is so gorgeous. This was nothing like I’ve ever seen.
You will get some amazing photo ops here and make everyone jealous…LOL. Everywhere you turn, I’m sure you’ll want to take a picture. It is just that special and inspiring.
Once you are done gawking and being amazed by this treasure, you will walk through the impressive Palace Gardens. The gardens are gorgeous and well-manicured, and the path is a nice walk-through. While walking through the gardens, you will get a spectacular view of Arthur’s Seat.
After you exit the Palace, you will have a chance to enter The Queen’s Gallery. If you want to tour the Queen’s Gallery, then make sure you purchase a combined ticket that includes entry into both the Palace and the gallery.
Click here to see more info and ticket options.
St. Anthony’s Chapel Ruins
The chapel ruins are an amazing sight to see. The chapel dates back to the 13th-14th century. It’s rumored that its downfall occurred in the 1500s. It’s a fairly easy climb uphill that’ll take about 5 minutes to get to, but it’s well worth it. The chapel sits high above on top of a hill overlooking Holyroodhouse Park.
Only here in Europe do you get to see such historic, remarkable sites.
Take in the spectacular views of the city and look down to see the gorgeous, calming lake filled with white swans swimming all around. I’ll say the scenery is like a fairytale. The picturesque chapel ruins are stunning, to say the least. The location of the ruins, I think, makes it worth the climb. It is nothing that I’ve ever seen in America. Only here in Europe do you get to see such historic, remarkable sites. It was amazing.
Plus, it’s just so calming and peaceful up there. I could’ve stayed there and stared out into the city all day. But we had to keep moving to walk some of Arthur’s Seat. The chapel ruins are a must-see site for this 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary.
Hike Arthur’s Seat
Besides visiting Castle Rock, Arthur’s seat is another destination you must visit along any 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary. It is one of the most known and popular hills in the Country. What makes it so remarkable is that it’s an ancient volcanic rock.
Arthur’s seat is located pretty close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. After just a short stroll down the street, you will make it over to the start of Arthur’s seat. Therefore, you might as well knock both of these activities out on the same day.
It should take about 45 minutes to climb up the hill of Arthur’s Seat. My advice would be to wear some comfortable shoes to hike up this hill. I was astonished seeing this one lady with heels on!!! I would’ve broken my neck trying to climb up rocks and steeps with heels on. Don’t be that person, please!
If you aren’t good with directions and want to know more of the history of this hill then you may want to get a guide to show you the way.
For options for tour guides click here.
Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Building is across the street from Holyroodhouse Palace. Learn about the art and history of the Scottish Parliament and its democracy. The Scottish Parliament was first established in 1997. A new Parliament building was built by Enric Miralles and the Queen opened it in 2004.
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to enter right now due to COVID. However, you can do a virtual tour online here. Regardless you can still see the outside of the building where there are engravings of history on it. The architecture of this building is lovely. Sit outside amongst the building and take in the views of Arthur’s Seat.
Prepare to Go home
Ok, now on day 3 we had a limited amount of time. Our train was departing at 1500.
We could still enjoy most of day 3 then catch the train, even though we were pushing it close. All in all, our 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary turned out to be a great trip. If you have more time, then I would suggest staying for the rest of the day.
Other Places to visit if you have time, add to this Edinburgh Itinerary
If you decide to stay for the rest of the day, I would suggest a few other notable places to visit below.
- The University of Edinburgh
- National Museum of Scotland
- Royal Botanical Garden
- The Writers Museum
- Scottish National Gallery
Staying for 4 days?
Perhaps stay another night and add a day trip to this Edinburgh Itinerary
Day trips from Edinburgh
There are several day trips to choose from, here are a few recommended day trips to take from Edinburgh.
Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Scottish Highlands Tour
I mean, who hasn’t heard of the Loch Ness Monster? If you are curious and want some nostalgic moments, then take this full-day trip. See the Scottish Highlands and learn about its rich history. You’ll have stops along the way like the highland valley of Glencoe where James Bond and Harry Potter were filmed. Walk around towns, the National parks, take a boat ride in Loch ness and so much more.
For more info and ticket options visit this website.
Outlander Adventure Day Trip
If you are an Outlander fan then this is a must-see trip to add to this Edinburgh itinerary. Discover the history and hear the stories that inspired the hit series Outlander. While on this tour you will get to visit the locations where the shooting of Outlander took place. Additionally, you’ll visit three castles (including Castle Leoch), a palace, and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scotts.
For more info and ticket options, visit this website.
So that’s the end of 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary. Will you be going to Edinburgh soon? If so I would love to hear about your experience. Let me know in the comments below.
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